When “yes” means goodbye

By Jessica Rosier, Director of the Barker Mansion

***This blog post reflects the view of the author, not Barker Mansion.***

I have a cartoon on my bulletin board. It reads: “The Secret of Time Management. It’s that magic 2-letter word: NO.” I clipped this illustration out a magazine a few years ago as a reminder to myself: don’t become so busy that you don’t have time for things you enjoy, and those which are most meaningful.

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There are many things in life that are worth a yes, though. Many of the best yeses are organic. They start from a sincere interest, desire, or curiosity. Perhaps it’s an invitation from a friend or respected colleague. In whatever case, a sincere yes shouldn’t make a person stressed out or pause for a second-guess. It should feel right.

A year-long string of yeses has taken me on a wonderful journey. It started with an honor. I was asked to be a voting delegate in the Diocese of Gary’s first-ever historic synod, which took place in June 2017. Together with hundreds of other men and women across the region, we met to prayerfully discern and direct the future of the diocese regarding key issues such as social teaching, marriage and family, evangelization and more. The Spirit was truly present that day, and I was inspired to become more involved in parish life. The thought of pursuing a job in ministry crossed my mind, but I pushed it aside as I had a wonderful and stable career at the Barker Mansion – one that I had worked many years to obtain.

Later that month, another yes emerged. I had expressed to Father Kevin Huber at Queen of All Saints in Michigan City that I wanted to be more involved, and he asked me to serve in a volunteer role at the parish. He wanted help in coordinating the post-Mass activities in the new Legacy Center. My role would be called the Weekend Experience Coordinator. This played naturally into my professional skill set, so it was an easy yes.

Near the end of summer, Father asked me to serve on the Pastoral Council. I had been curious to know about the inner-workings of the church, so this was another easy yes.

I found myself spending more and more time at Queen of All Saints, and the Legacy Center really started to feel like home. My husband really grew to enjoy spending time there too, and became involved in various ministries on his own. Seeing parishioners and new guests socializing in the gathering space after Mass, enjoying coffee and donuts, writing cards to those in nursing homes, viewing an inspirational film, or creating a craft was really fulfilling. All through the year, that thought of pursing a job in ministry kept creeping into my mind. Each time, I would push it aside telling myself that I could easily balance work at the mansion with volunteer duties.

Also during this time, I felt a pull to deepen my own knowledge of Scripture. Through conversations with friends in South Bend, I came to know about the University of Notre Dame’s STEP (Satellite Theological Education Program). I dipped my toe into this program by saying yes to one class in January 2018. One class led to another, and so on. I was able to attend a powerful conference at Notre Dame in March 2018, Cultures of Formation. It was during this time that I knew I couldn’t keep pushing that ministry job thought aside. It was time for a big yes.

Back at Queen of All Saints, Father Kevin got to me first. He pulled me aside and asked about the possibility of me coming to work there. This moment was truly cultivated by the Spirit. There is no other explanation for the yeses throughout the last year, how organically things grew, and how right it felt. Early this summer, I will start as the first-ever Campus Experience Coordinator at Queen of All Saints. I will schedule usage of the church buildings and rooms, complete marketing, and continue to plan the Weekend Experience activities. This yes, however, means goodbye to the mansion.

I certainly never imagined leaving the mansion after only three years of work. I’ve played a role in transforming the mansion into a viable tourist attraction with diverse programming. Some favorite accomplishments would be redoing the lower level to include usable exhibit space, building a viable volunteer program and hiring dynamic staff, working to create a website and establishing an online presence, revamping our Christmas interpretation to be historically accurate, offering scout sleepovers, and more. I am so grateful for the supportive board, my interaction with the other City departments and Mayor Meer, and my ties to the Barker family during this time. It’s hard to swallow giving up a job in which the community is so supportive, and where we have such a great staff and volunteers. This has really been the best job I’ve ever had in that sense. I never want to seem ungrateful for that.

It’s really a bit difficult to articulate why I want to work in ministry. Father recently asked me why I feel called to this job, and I felt a bit tongue tied. It just feels right. It’s a good yes. A yes that grew organically.

Saying yes to this new job allows me to use the event planning, facility management, and interpretation experience I’ve gained in parks and museums and use them for another cause. This yes that allows me to use my strengths to help bring others closer to Jesus.

This yes brings another change. Being a part-time position, I will be able to visit my home state much more frequently to help care for my grandmother and spend time with family.

This yes, though, means goodbye.

Thank you to everyone who’s supported me through my three years at the mansion, especially our amazing board members. Please be assured that I will be active in the search for a new Director, and will assist in the training-in period.

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Barker Mansion volunteers honored

Barker Mansion Top 5 Volunteers 2017. Bruce and Pat Frankinburger, Anthony Holt, Sandy Komasinski, Carolyn Pahs
Volunteers Bruce and Pat Frankinburger, Anthony Holt, Sandy Komasinski, and Carolyn Pahs are pictured above. All were top hour earners in 2017.

Michigan City’s Barker Mansion held an evening in appreciation of its volunteers on Friday, November 17, 2017. During the event, which was held in the ornate Drawing Room, volunteers were recognized for their dedication to the historic site and their creativity in planning programs.

“We absolutely could not operate in this capacity without our volunteers,” said Director Jessica Rosier. “Volunteers are essential to everything we do, from leading school groups and tours to marketing to research.”

The top five volunteers in 2017, in terms of hours, are as follows: Carolyn Pahs of Michigan City (92.5 hours), Pat Frankinburger of LaPorte (89 hours), Bruce Frankinburger of LaPorte (60 hours), Sandy Komasinski of Beverly Shores (40.5 hours), and Anthony Holt of Michigan City (32 hours). Rosier stressed that any time commitment, whether it’s once per week or once per year, is needed and appreciated.

In addition to providing recognition to volunteers, the casual event included dinner and games. Those interested in volunteering at the mansion can email jrosier@emichigancity.com.

Overcoming Stigmas through Interpretation

The following article was published in the National Association for Interpretation‘s Legacy magazine, aimed at professionals working in parks and museums. The content is property of Legacy and was written by Barker Mansion director Jessica Rosier.

 

If you’ve seen one historic home museum, you’ve seen ‘em all. Only old people visit there. They don’t allow kids inside. Looks fancy; I bet it’s expensive.

Historic home museums can be burdened with stigmas. These stigmas provide a challenge when it comes to attracting visitors and sharing an interpretive story. The Barker Mansion in Michigan City, Indiana was faced with many of these challenges when I began as director a couple years back. I like to stay that the mansion had been asleep for a few decades and was in need of a gentle awakening.  Waking up from that deep sleep proved hard. It meant replacing tour scripts with interpretive outlines, shifting from an artifact-based tour to a more stories-based tour, and just getting people to realize we were an interesting place they could visit with nice, welcoming, trained interpreters! I have spent the past two-and-a-half years trying to accomplish these goals through successes and failures. In the following paragraphs, I want to share with you how the Barker Mansion has tried to overcome the stigmas of our sleepy years through interpretation. It is my hope that you can apply some of these ideas, or at least learn from our bouts of trial and error, at your own historic home museum.

If you’ve seen one boring historic home, you’ve seen ‘em all.

On a superficial level, this statement has some truth. What do you expect when touring an historic home? Fine woodwork? Rich textiles? Fancy artwork? Yes, yes, and yes. While some folks can gawk at these features all day, others want more or they’ll quickly view your historic home as just another one they’ve checked off their list. Trust me: your visitors want stories, they want gossip, and they want to feel like an insider. This was my theory, at least, when I started at the Barker Mansion in 2015.

At that time our standard tour was extremely artifact-based and did not apply any interpretive principles. While people loved the grandness of the mansion, I could immediately see their eyes glazing over with the information overload as nearly every artifact in all 38 rooms was described in painstaking detail. It was simply too much for a person’s brain to compute and quite impersonal. Tilden was probably turning in his grave, as his second principle, information, as such, is not interpretation, was violated again and again.

Through researching the family diaries, letters, and scrapbooks, I began to slowly rework the tour outline. We began to focus less on the artifacts and architecture and more on the family story through interpretation. Is a visitor really going to care that Mr. Barker’s cigar box is made of Capodimonte Porcelain that was hand painted in Naples, Italy over 200 years ago? Maybe. What’s going to really pique their interest is that the box was a fixture in the mansion’s library, which turned into his no-ladies-allowed man cave at night, a place where card playing, whiskey drinking, and cigar smoking were commonplace amid cutting business deals with clients from his nearby freight car factory.

Morning Room at Barker Mansion

To beat the if you’ve seen one boring historic home, you’ve seen ‘em all stigma, you need to get the back story on the home’s residents. While I understand that not all historic homes are going to have documentation on the previous residents, it can be found through creative means. Visit your local historical society to pull records related to the family. Genealogy quests, court records, and newspaper clippings can help you piece together a person’s life in the absence of written correspondence or scrapbooks. If this sounds daunting, or if you have limited staff, consider partnering with local high schools, universities, or senior centers on research projects.

Another easy, but sometimes scary, way to cure the seen ‘em all stigma is to literally let them see it all. Our Behind the Scenes Tour was released in 2015 to explore all the spaces that are off-limits during a normal guided tour. We offer this interpretive tour at least once per month, and tickets typically sell-out far in advance. We keep the tour groups small to allow for an intimate experience. Visitors get to see inside all the closets, cupboards, storage rooms, offices, the basement, and enter the rooms that are normally roped off. We took Tilden’s fifth principle, interpretation should aim to present a whole rather than a part, pretty seriously with this one! This immersive experience takes trust on the interpreter’s part but is one of the most rewarding tours we do based on positive guest reaction. After viewing all of the hidden blemishes and inner workings (even down to the fuse boxes and plumbing) of our home, a guest could never lump us into the seen ‘em all category. Your historic home, no matter how small or seemingly uninteresting, can easily offer this type of interpretive tour. Offer the tour at night and equip each guest with a flashlight for an added feel of excitement.

Only old people visit there.

Don’t get me wrong, we love our senior citizen visitors. Retired folks on vacation and bus groups from retirement homes were the mansion’s bread and butter when I started as director. People of an older generation have a deep respect and interest in the fine details of the mansion. They often have great stories to share about their upbringing, as items inside the mansion spark fond memories from childhood. Welcoming seniors can be great fun, but I did not feel it should be the only group we were serving. To that end, I decided early on that we would target two additional groups: young families and millennials.

Designing programming specifically for families also helped us beat the they don’t allow kids inside stigma, which was quite strong when I began as director (and something we still hear from time to time today). Our garden provided the perfect setting for an inaugural kids program. I called on my friend, and local naturalist, Cookie Ferguson to create “Kids’ Nature Play in the Garden”. During the program, Cookie urged kids to explore nature as a young Catherine Barker (heiress to the family fortune) would have done in the early 1900’s. The activity was priced at just $2 a child (a way to overcome the looks fancy; I bet it’s expensive stigma) and included story time, exploration, a take-home craft, and a snack. Cookie is now in her third year of facilitating this program for us. Although it’s a program aimed at youngsters, it really becomes cross-generational as you see infants, stay-at-home moms and grandparents interacting with their kids in the mansion. If you don’t have the skills to facilitate nature programming at your site, consider reaching out to a local Master Naturalist group in your area to design the program. And if you don’t have gardens or green space at your property, try following the format with an indoors scavenger hunt on rotating topics.

Another program designed to follow Tilden’s sixth principle, interpretation addressed to children should…follow a fundamentally different approach and beat the they don’t allow kids inside stigma is our “Night at the Mansion” sleepovers. Available upon request by scout and youth groups, kids can “camp out” in the mansion’s Drawing Room for the evening. The evening includes a mansion tour geared toward kids and a pizza party. Lights out follow viewing of the movie “A Night at the Museum”. The kids have a simple breakfast of orange juice and granola bars before departing the next morning. Each child walks away with an embroidered Barker Mansion patch and bragging rights that they got to spend the night in Michigan City’s most historic building. This program is, hands-down, my favorite experience that we offer. I love hearing girls giggling in their sleeping bags at midnight as they lay under the ornately-carved plaster ceiling surrounded by world-class artwork. No matter your interpretive site, you can offer an immersive experience like this quite easily (provided you have a staff member or volunteer crazy enough to camp out with all those kids).

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We’ve planned a couple programs specifically aimed at millennials over the past year. We struggle to reach this group, which is ironic because myself and most of my staff fall into this category. Our best ideas to reach millennials have involved partnering with local breweries and distilleries, something we felt would appeal to this age group. Our “Hop the Cosmos” stargaze featured our local brewery, Zorn, dispensing beer while the night sky was interpreted via a powerful telescope by friend Brad Bumgardner. To relate back to our historic roots, we created an interpretive display about stargazing during the Victorian era. Folks really enjoyed lounging in the garden after dark and sipping beer, but paid little attention to our interpretive information, so I feel we failed in this area.

Another program geared toward millennials and aimed at defeating our only old people visit there stigma was the “Bootleggin’ at Barker” event, which was a Prohibition-era cocktail party largely organized by social media platform Dig the Dunes. Guests roamed from room to room of the mansion while sampling throwback cocktails prepared by local bars. Mansion volunteers were stationed in each room with “cheat sheets” on the history of the home so they could share interpretive tidbits with guests; this was an attempt to channel Tilden’s fourth principle, the chief aim of interpretation is not instruction but provocation. Our staff was very pleased with the amount of questions we fielded about the artifacts and the Barker family throughout the evening.

Couple in Monuments Room at Bootleggin

These two events obviously took a lot of resources and planning; permits to serve alcohol had to obtained, partnerships established with local breweries and bars, and a big pool of volunteer help recruited. We were very intentional in how we marketed these two events geared toward millennials as well; we placed more emphasis on social media marketing and less on traditional newspaper press releases. We were sure to partner with the businesses that are thought of as “hip” and “cool” too.

Your site may be clouded with some of the stigmas just mentioned, or you may have an entirely different set of burdens to bear. Whatever the case, it is my hope that you could relate to some of the aforementioned examples, and that you find inspiration in designing programming for your interpretive site. Certainly not everything I have tried here at the Barker Mansion has been a success, or has reached the groups I intended. We have had some big misses, along with our successes. I do know, though, that more folks are feeling welcome at the mansion and more are wanting to learn our interpretive story and that can be counted as progress any day.

A La Porte County Life in the Spotlight: Jessica Rosier

 Jessica Rosier, the Director of the Barker Mansion, has not always been a Hoosier. She was born and raised in northern Minnesota, which is where she first fell in love with nature. Rosier’s passion for nature compelled her into earning her master’s degree in geography with a concentration in tourism planning and development from St. Cloud State University.

Rosier recently gained her Hoosier status when she and her husband moved here not too long ago.

“About six years ago, my husband got transferred for work in Northwest Indiana, which is when I became a Hoosier,” she said.

Rosier and her husband initially resided in Valparaiso where she worked at the Dunes State Park, but then she was promoted and transferred to Indianapolis with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

“We really missed life in Northwest Indiana and in the Dunes. The Barker Mansion Director job opened up about two years ago, and we knew we wanted to live in Michigan City, so I applied, got it, and here we are today.”

As the Director of the Barker Mansion, Rosier is the secret face behind the scenes.

“I am kind of the support behind the scenes person. The Barker Mansion leads tours and plans special events, which I lead at times, but my interpreters are the ones usually leading the tours,” she said. “My job is to make sure that we have money to do these things, the marketing is going out, the websites are up to date, staff schedules are in place, and I also help to manage repairs on the building, so I work with contractors quite a bit too.”

Her favorite part about working as the Director for the Barker Mansion is being able to work with a historic building that has lots of history behind it and a lot of potential for the future.

“My favorite part about working here is that the mansion is a work in progress, with a lot of potential. When I got here two years ago, I like to say that the mansion was sleeping and it had been sleeping for a few decades and it’s my job to gently wake it up,” Rosier stated.

Rosier and her staff work to try and get people back to the mansion who have not visited in a while, as well as introduce it to those who have never been.

“We’ve been trying out a lot of different programs to get in a lot of people in their 20s and 30s to revisit this place and realize that it is a value to the community. Then, they can start bringing their kids to get the next generation invested in this place,” she said. “It is also a big goal to get people coming back again and again instead of just coming once in elementary school. We are starting to see that, so it is really exciting when we start recognizing our guests and remembering their names.”

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Rosier dressed as the Barker’s Dining Room maid, Alice Smith, at a birthday party last fall.

When on a tour of the Barker Mansion, the tour guides will claim and share that the mansion is haunted. Rosier has been working as the Barker Mansion’s Director for a couple of years now, but has yet to encounter any haunted scenarios.

“I have not encountered anything suspicious, but many of my staff members have. Many of them have stories about seeing, hearing, and even feeling things when in the mansion. I do trust my team and I do believe it, but I just have not experienced it myself,” she said.

Outside of working as the Director of the Barker Mansion, Rosier enjoys being outside and supporting local businesses.

“I love being outside, even in the winter, and I think that comes from growing up in northern Minnesota. I try to go to the beach every day and walk or run with my dog. My husband and I love to go hiking, especially at the Dunes… we love the Dunes,” she said. “We also love trying new local restaurants in town. We really enjoy supporting local businesses. I love going to thrift stores and I like to quilt when I have time.”

Right now, during the mansion’s winter hours, tours are open to the public Tuesday through Saturday at 1 p.m. There are also special events that the mansion puts on that can be found on the website.

If you would like to learn more about the Barker Mansion, or see what special events are going on in the near future, click here.

Getting to know MC- and loving it

This content was originally published as an op-ed piece in Michigan City’s News Dispatch and ran on September 9, 2016.

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My adopted hometown of Michigan City is bursting at the seams with fun events and activities each weekend. A girl really doesn’t need to look hard to find something enjoyable to do. This fall will be no exception. We’re cooking up something big with our friends at Barker Hall. Together, we like to nerd-out on history and dream up ideas for sharing our love with others. Our newest idea? We’re throwing a huge party to celebrate 180 years of Michigan City’s history. The Heritage Ball will be held on Saturday, October 1 with activities taking place at both Barker facilities. You can expect jazz, cocktails, finger foods, period costumes, and more. Tickets are $50 a piece or $85 per couple. Give me a call at (219) 873-1520 to reserve your spot or you can purchase online through Eventbrite.

Before I became immersed in all of this wonderful Barker history, I was just a girl exploring her new hometown. Moving to Northwest Indiana five years ago has been a treat for my history-loving husband and me. After he was relocated for work, we decided to make our home in Michigan City. Coming from small towns in Northern Minnesota established in the 1950’s, we were amazed at the rich history of Michigan City and the great diversity of cultural activities available to residents.

We fell in love Michigan City’s beach, the then up-and-coming Uptown Arts District, and restaurants like Shoreline Brewery, taking advantage of the historic building to serve their brews. We visited the Old Lighthouse Museum where volunteers helped us research the history of our home. We bicycled and drove along Lakeshore Drive to admire the varied architectural styles, feeling as if we’d been transported to Florida or California in an instant. We visited the public library and checked out books on Washington Park’s history, marveling at old photographs from the amusement park days. We climbed the WPA tower at the Zoo and enjoyed Monkey Island. We went to Mass at St. Stan’s and St. Mary’s and were amazed at the beauty of the artwork and details, both inside and out of the sacred spaces. We took advantage of First Fridays, with one of our favorite stops being a tour of Trinity Episcopal Church whenever the bright red doors were open.

Stepping into the role of Director at the Barker Mansion has allowed me to immerse myself even deeper into our City’s history. I feel that it’s impossible to talk about the history of our City without referencing the Barker family. They have been here since our incorporation as a city in 1836. As a handsome young lad from Massachusetts, John Barker Sr. came here at age 22 and set up a general merchandising firm on the shore of Lake Michigan 180 years ago. A couple decades later, Barker became involved in a small freight car business which grew to employ thousands of people and allowed him to accumulate massive wealth. Lucky for our town’s ancestors, he was a generous guy and passed that value onto his kids. Barker money helped build this town. They contributed architecturally magnificent buildings to our City, funded the arts, and built places of worship and education. The Barker legacy of 180 years lives today through two very tangible examples in the Uptown Arts District – Barker Hall and the Barker Mansion.

I am so grateful that life has brought me to Michigan City, a place steeped in history, art, and architecture. Please help me celebrate 180 years of my adopted hometown’s rich heritage this fall by attending the ball on October 1. We have so much to celebrate and so much to which we can look forward. Guys, dust off your fedoras. Ladies, get out your flapper dresses. I know I’ll be wearing mine.

By Jessica Rosier, Director